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How To Start A Design Business?

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Being a designer can branch out your career path into various routes. Some prefer to work for people while others prefer to be their own boss. Depending on your preferences, or financial situation, you might have considered or embarked on starting up your own design business as a freelance designer at some point of your design career. If you happen to be at that stage now and wondering about How To Start A Design Business, read on!

We can see that there has been a rise in the number of people deciding to become freelancers in recent years and this insight inspired me to write this article. Since there are already many existing guides online like 5 things to consider before starting your own design business, I decided to focus more on what working as a freelance designer would look like in this article.

As mentioned in her answer for Question 14 in one of our previous articles on ‘20 Questions on How To Carry Out UX Research’, Sara Koay, UX Researcher of, believes that “designers shouldn’t be afraid of learning about the business side of talking to people.” This is especially true if you’re looking to explore freelance design and start your own design business.

My tips in this article will be mainly from the time Stanly Fernandez, Head of Programme for Bachelor of Communication with Business Programme at SIM University, invited me to share my insights about the design industry with a class of freshmen. This was a while back and I still remember how a group of working professionals (since it’s a part-time programme) were seated in front of me. They were technically proficient designers who wished to grow into creative business leaders or entrepreneurs through the programme. My sharing with them was as follows:

1. Freelancers and globalisation

Increased demand, but increased competition as well
The Internet has made the world a smaller place. With increasing demand for creative services, the competition intensifies as well. The average fee of a freelance designer in India is considerably lesser than the average fee of a freelance designer in Singapore. The key is to find better channels to promote your services or find a more efficient way to work.

Website shared: – A marketplace for skilled freelance creative professionals mostly based in Europe

2. The struggle to get consistent projects and income

Ensure prompt payments from your clients for a steady cash flow
Most small business owners running an agency struggle to get consistent projects at the beginning. Else, they struggle to have their customers pay on-time. The good news is, you don’t have to be the only person chasing payments.

Website shared: – A web service sending invoice reminders to your clients periodically, allowing you to customise the tone of these messages based on urgency. – Ease your cashflow with this platform’s financing solutions

There are also services which allow businesses to turn accounts receivables into cash. By paying a small commission you can ease cash flow in your business.

3. The need for personal branding

Attract the right opportunities with minimal ongoing effort
Many designers fail to see the value of having an updated LinkedIn profile. As an active user on LinkedIn for the past 7 years I recommend using the Behance and Slideshare application to display visual works and portfolio. Think of it as an online presence to attract the right opportunities to you with minimal ongoing effort.

It pays to be more proactive as well. Many creative professionals I talk to don’t spend time networking at least once a month. The idea is to find potential collaborators and people you can learn from and it could be as simple as joining a special interest group like Toastmasters or attending a monthly event like CreativeMornings. The earlier article I wrote about Networking 101 may offer a few tips for those still feeling clueless.

Websites shared: – The world’s largest creative network for showcasing and discovering creative work. – Discover, Share, and Present presentations and infographics with the world’s largest professional content sharing community. – UXfolio is a powerful UX portfolio builder with no coding required. Pick a stunning template and tell the story behind your design process – Dribbble is the leading destination to find & showcase creative work and home to the world’s best design professionals.

4. The ease of online selling

Digitise your customer’s buying journey
Digital and physical goods are being sold online every second. There are two websites that makes this easy.

Websites shared: – Shopify is a flexible e-commerce platform that has everything you need to sell online, on social media, or in-person. – A simple platform that allows you to sell digital goods

5. Growing as a creative business leader

My recommended reads
The freshmen were going to pick up business knowledge along the programme and I recommended two additional resources that might make a difference to how they think.

Resources shared: – A best-selling book that compresses an Masters of Business Administration curriculum into a single volume – 14 key qualities required to ace as a creative director and manage creative teams – Special Webinar: Overcoming Limiting Beliefs where I discuss how we value and price ourselves as creative professionals with the audience

6. The value of Design Thinking

A means for successful innovation
More businesses are starting to recognise the value of applying a Design Thinking framework when solving business problems. It is essentially a research methodology and the Singapore government sees it as a way for the youth of today to contribute to the community.

Tools shared: – A free toolkit to explore Design Thinking – IDEO explores how we might make things in the future